First Congo on the Road

First Congregational United Church of Christ, Appleton, Wisconsin

Peace to You

April 21st, 2016 by Deb Burich in Uncategorized · No Comments

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Peace to you. That resonates in my mind today. I took a walk on the beach today after finishing our workday. I was sitting on a break wall looking out at the ocean, and a man walked up next to me, said “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” and then “Peace to you,” and continued walking on.

That truly brought peace to me. It filled my heart with all the goodness that has surrounded me this week.  A work trip can do that—amidst the serving, painting, sweating and body aches, there is laughter, new friendships and a renewed sense of goodness in our world.

So instead of stories of what we did today, I invite you on one of our next work trips, and I leave you with the words, “Peace to you.”

Deb Burich, Director for Mission and Service

Cosmetology student giving a haircut at Micah Day Center in Biloxi, MS.

Scene from Wednesday: Cosmetology student giving a haircut at Micah Day Center in Biloxi, MS.

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Serving in Various Ways

April 20th, 2016 by Deb Burich in Back Bay Mission · No Comments

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I worked this morning at Micah house, a day center for the homeless. Coffee and snacks are provided to the guests. Guests also have the opportunity to shower, and as a volunteer I help prep for the next shower.

We have chances to talk with the people and learn a lot about their situations.  The guests vary from being just down on their luck and looking for a new start to being chronically mentally ill. It’s a rewarding experience because the people there are very appreciative of the chance not only to take showers and do laundry but also to access computers for job searches.

Mary Dees

A few members of our group volunteered at Loaves and Fishes, a soup kitchen in downtown Biloxi. They made and served breakfast and lunch and enjoyed this new experience.

We also continued to put up drywall and painted at the new build site.

The executive director of Back Bay Mission, Dr. Alice Graham, talked to our group tonight about programs and projects that Back Bay Mission is involved with. A new initiative is the Bridges to Poverty program that connects mentors to people in poverty. The mentors work with them over a two-year period to teach them the skills needed to move forward.

Deb Burich, Director for Mission and Service

Putting up drywall at a new build site.

Putting up drywall at a new build site.

Hurricane Katrina Memorial

Hurricane Katrina Memorial

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Starting Work at Back Bay Mission

April 19th, 2016 by Deb Burich in Back Bay Mission · No Comments

Monday,  April 18, 2016

We awake to the aroma of a wonderful breakfast that was prepared by our group chefs, Cheryl and Ron Reissmann! We are grateful for all they do in preparing delicious meals for us!

Laughter, excitement and a feel of energy permeates the air as our group heads off to several work sites.

Mary Dees and I volunteered at the food pantry this morning.  This is the only “client choice” food pantry in the region (where clients select the foods that they need, much like in a grocery store), and this change has shown positive results. Having the opportunity to interact with clients as you go through the shopping aisles with them is one of the positive changes, and it gave us glimpses into the real-life struggles and challenges they face.

Others volunteered at Micah Day Center for the homeless and, of course, the housing recovery sites—some hanging drywall on a new build, some painting and caulking.

I will share more about these other sites and programs in future days.

One interesting historical fact that I found out this morning was that the housing recovery program began in 1969!  That means that this program has been ongoing for 47 years!  What a privilege to be part of it. Not only does it serve a critical need for housing repair for low income people but it also connects thousands of volunteers and churches to these people and to Back Bay Mission.

Blessings abound,
Deb Burich, Director for Mission and Service

First work day on the 2016 Back Bay Mission Trip

First work day on the 2016 Back Bay Mission Trip

First work day on the 2016 Back Bay Mission Trip

First work day on the 2016 Back Bay Mission Trip

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Arriving in Biloxi

April 18th, 2016 by Deb Burich in Back Bay Mission · No Comments

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Greetings to First Congregational UCC from Benji and Pam Benzschawel! Benji’s loves his work here at Back Bay Mission, and it is wonderful to see and work with him this week.

It is great to be at Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi again. Our church serves here for a week every year, and this year we will also send a group of youth and adults together in summer.

We are here this week with a group from River Falls, Wisconsin and are enjoying getting to know one another. Today  we walked the beach and went to a Shuckers baseball game (the Shuckers are a farm club of the Brewers!). Brett Favre was at the game and threw out the first pitch!

Tomorrow morning we will begin our work, possibly working on a new build and finishing a home rehabilitation. Some of us will also serve at the Micah Day Center for homeless individuals during the week, as well as the food pantry. We are thankful for this place of “serving, fellowship, reflection and hope.” Thank you for supporting our mission partner, Back Bay Mission.

Deb Burich, Director for Mission and Service

Shuckers baseball game in Biloxi, Mississippi

Shuckers baseball game in Biloxi, Mississippi

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Benji’s Missive from the Mission

November 24th, 2015 by Emily Helvering in Benji's News from Back Bay Mission · No Comments

It took us a while to settle on a home for Benji’s messages, but now we’ve given him his own category on our “On the Road” blog. Please subscribe to hear about all our mission experiences or filter for the category “Benji’s News from Back Bay Mission” to see all of Benji’s posts.

September 23, 2015

Logo for Back Bay MissionWelcome to the first Monthly, Quarterly Occasional letter about my experiences at Back Bay Mission. It’s hard to believe that I have been working for Back Bay Mission for over 9 months already. As many of you know, working (and living) here is something Pam and I talked about and anticipated since our first visit in 2006. Sometimes, when one anticipates something for a long time the reality disappoints. I am happy to report that has not been the case here. The job is everything I had hoped for. As I expected, Craig and I get along very well. It helps that we were friends before he became my boss, but sometimes the relationship changes when a friend becomes your boss. That has not occurred. We collaborate very well and harass each other enough to keep it light. We are very much on the same page when it comes to the direction we want to take the housing recovery program. Stay tuned. There’s more to come on that subject.

Since I have been here, I have accepted applications from 49 new clients. Therefore, our client list has grown to 70! Of those, 8 are complete, 11 are in process, and 51 clients are waiting for home repairs. This greatly exceeds our current capacity, so we have put a moratorium on new applications. The most heartbreaking part of my job is saying no to people that call for help. Some of the clients that I have met with have serious needs, and we are unable to help them because their household income is just above our guidelines. I know they cannot afford the repairs, but we can’t help them. The next toughest part of the job is asking people to wait until we can to it. “Yes, I know your roof is leaking, but we can’t get there right now.” This is outweighed, however, by the joy of completing work for clients.

Willie and Jesse are the first family I accepted as clients. They called because their heat was out. When I got there, I discovered a kitchen that was nearly completely non-functional, holes in the siding, post-Katrina repairs that were never completed, and a home much in need of repair. Willie is a Navy veteran now working part-time at the Winn-Dixie for $8.50 per hour. They live there with their son (also a vet), daughter and three grandchildren. We have completely redone the kitchen, replaced all of the siding, replaced the entry doors (one of which required reframing because of the amount of termite damage), and put all new flooring in. After all of this, Willie told me that he had been contacted by a friend on the Navy base who wants to discuss a job opportunity with him. Blessings abound!

We recently commemorated the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Many of the locals refused to watch any of the coverage. Having lived through it once, they simply didn’t want to revisit those horrifying days. I watched much of it, as it provided detailed information that I didn’t have previously. That said, it was frustrating to watch the national coverage, as so little of that was about the Mississippi coast. My aggravation with the local coverage was the scant focus on all the volunteers that rebuilt the coast, and complete absence of mention of Back Bay Mission. We remain a somewhat invisible force here.

On a personal note, we are getting settled. Pam started working at Peoples Bank on September 8. Yea! Our Wisconsin home sold last month. Both boys started working in the San Francisco Bay area in August. It’s funny that without setting out to do so, the both landed jobs within about 30 miles of one another. We’re looking forward to a visit to California as soon as Pam has some vacation time.

I’m very much looking forward to coming to Appleton for the Shrimp Boil in December. Unfortunately, Pam will not be joining me as she can’t take off work that soon. We are both coming to Wisconsin for Christmas though. Since it will be her dad’s first Christmas without her mom, we thought it important to come. It will be a whirlwind, however, so I doubt we’ll get to see our church friends on that visit.

My love to everyone at First Congo. I still consider you my church home. We have started attending a local church, but it’s not First Congo. Then again, that’s a hard act to follow.

Yours in Mission,

Benji Benzschawel
Assistant for Housing Recovery
Back Bay Mission

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Working on the Home and Relationships

October 8th, 2015 by Emily Helvering in Appalachia Service Project · No Comments

It was another beautiful, 80-degree day here. We put in the headers and floor joists. The family says it no longer looks like a dungeon. We also put in a plastic vapor barrier and started the insulation. There has been plenty of time every day to talk with Bertha and Mike. Bertha, especially, likes to tell her life story and is a delightful and insightful woman.


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Progress on Mike’s House

October 7th, 2015 by Emily Helvering in Appalachia Service Project · No Comments

Today we put up the new girder in the basement. What a project! We also cleaned up all of the lumber and flooring from the floor removal. Tomorrow we hope to get in the floor joists and begin to put in the subfloor. We spent time again today talking with the family and were given some wonderful homemade cornbread made by Bertha. Tonight we had a program at the center which explained the application process and how they decide which homes are selected for Appalachia Service Project help.

It is amazing the number of people they are able to help and the number of projects they get done with such a limited budget. We are working hard and learning a lot.


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Day One in Jonesville, Virginia

October 6th, 2015 by Emily Helvering in Appalachia Service Project · No Comments

We were sent out on day one to Mike’s house about twenty minutes from Appalachia Service Project. We were to go and repair some rotten boards in the basement and put in a new subfloor. As it turns out, the entire floor was rotten, and we pulled up all of the subfloor, five layers of vinyl flooring and many, many, many rotten boards. It was only a little scary.

We spent time talking with Mike and his friend, Bertha, learning what it was like to grow up and live on the mountain.

Tomorrow, we are going to put in all new floor joists with Lyle’s expert supervision.

So far it is a great and exhausting experience.

Valerie and Crew

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Friday, July 18, 2015

July 18th, 2015 by Emily Helvering in Youth Mission Trips · No Comments

Friday, July 18, 2015

Today we were all at the All Saints Camp. We were only there until 12:30 PM, and then we got to go to the straw market, beach, Bimini Road and the aquarium. This was my first chance to spend some time at the camp, since I was at VBS all week.

The camp was a different atmosphere.  It was neat to be able to talk to some of the residents and to see how they were living. I got to talk to Betty, who is a talker and loved taking pictures with us. My crew and I got to eat lunch with Miss Butler. She had some interesting stories.

The afternoon was a lot of fun. It’s crazy how small the island is, yet there are almost two whole different worlds on it. The straw market was very bright and colorful, and you bargain the price down on everything. I can speak for all when I say it was nice to swim in the ocean and cool off, but it was not as nice as going to the bathroom and being able to wash your hands with soap and dry them with paper towel. Those are true blessings in disguise.

All in all it was a good week, but I think we are all ready to sleep in our own beds. Hopefully, that will be tomorrow night if all goes well with the flights!

Lots of love,

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A Day’s Work at All Saints Camp

July 17th, 2015 by Emily Helvering in Youth Mission Trips · No Comments

Thursday, July 17, 2015

Day 3 of work began as all the days do, with the singing and guitar playing of NextStep leader Travis waking us all up. We were all excited to get up and move, so we made our way quickly to the dining hall, where we were greeted by the smiling faces of the NextStep staff. Breakfast consisted of sizzling sausage, delectable scrambled eggs and the classic bagel.

After morning devotion we made our way onto the bus, driven by the voice of the Bahamas, the boisterous Mr. Smith. When we arrived at the All Saints Camp, we got off the bus, as the other groups going to different sites danced and sang to the music playing on the bus. As the bus rumbled away, all groups at the camp joined hands in prayer, and after that, each group split off to their assigned tasks.

Spencer’s group’s job for the week was “browning,” which is pretty much scraping a cement mix on a wall to make it more durable and to insulate it. Throughout the week the group has made wonderful progress, transforming the plain, cinder block wall into a wall almost completely covered with browning.

Meanwhile, Brady’s group was on the roof, where they continued to make progress on the already halfway finished project. At the end of the day, the roof was all felted up and ready to be shingled. Unfortunately, because of transportation issues, their group was not able to start shingling the home. At lunch, Brady was signed up to serve lunch to Garvin, a camp member with cerebral palsy.  It was supposed to be a partner job, so Brady asked Spencer if he’d like to help.  Yes!  At 11:00 AM, they went.  It was a little strange at first, as neither of them had ever had any experience feeding anyone before, but after they got into it, they had a great time.

The work day concluded with spending time with residents and getting to know them better. It was a great work day, and we are all looking forward to working a half day tomorrow and then getting some free time in the Bahamas.

Spencer and Brady

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